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      I-73 gets stimulus funding

      The Grand Strand's proposed interstate connection got a financial shot in the arm Wednesday from the federal government.

      On the one year anniversary of President Obama signing the economic stimulus into law, $10 million in stimulus funds were awarded to Interstate 73.

      I-73 will cost billions of dollars to build, so $10 million is a drop in the bucket. But supporters of the highway say this could be the spark that brings many more millions to the table.

      That roar you hear from I-73 supporters originated with a TIGER, a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, part of the president's stimulus program.

      The state DOT had asked for several hundred million dollars, so getting 10 million might seem to be disappointing for supporters, but then, out of the 1,400 requests for funding, only 51 got anything at all.

      "We're still very pleased. It's exciting and great news for us, but there's a lot more work that's going to have to be done to make this project become a reality," Franklin Daniels, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said. Daniels says it's too early to say how the new money will be spent.

      Whether it will be used for actually moving dirt is uncertain, but there's little doubt it can be used as leverage to attract more funding. Daniels says that won't be easy. "I think the budget issues at our state and federal level, it's just getting harder and harder to come up with the sources of funds that we need to fund this project," Daniels said.

      Chamber of Commerce leaders say the interstate will eventually give tourists a better way to get to Myrtle Beach and Grand Strand residents an easier way to evacuate in a hurricane. But right now, building the interstate would serve another important purpose.

      "This grant was to build the interchange right in the Pee Dee area, and it would create some jobs that we badly need right now," said Brad Dean, President of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

      Local lawmakers say the grant reinforces the importance of I-73 on the national level. That should make it easier to pull together funds from other accounts to help pay for it.

      The U.S. Department of Transportation was given $1.5 billion dollars to hand out in TIGER grants.